Remembering the Colorado Silver Bullets

Manager Phil Niekro of the Colorado Silver Bullets looks on during a game.
Manager Phil Niekro of the Colorado Silver Bullets looks on during a game.
Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images

Sixteen-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida made news earlier this week when she was selected in the Kansai Independent Baseball League draft. Remember the name, because you might hear it again in a few years when the Red Sox sign Yoshida to replace her idol, Tim Wakefield. We're kidding (we think).

Of course women playing baseball against men is nothing new. In fact, it was only 11 years ago that the all-female Colorado Silver Bullets were barnstorming across the country, challenging men's pro, semi-pro, and amateur teams from coast to coast. Here's a look back at the history of the team.

The Beginning: The man behind the creation of the Silver Bullets was Bob Hope, the Atlanta Braves' former vice president of promotions (not the late actor and comedian). Hope had developed a reputation for his unique ideas while with the Braves. On "Headlock and Wedlock Night," wedding ceremonies at home plate were followed by a professional wrestling exhibition. During another one of Hope's promotions, an Atlanta disc jockey nearly suffocated after diving headfirst into the world's largest ice cream sundae.

Still, Hope garnered the financial backing of the Coors Brewing Co. in 1993, and under the ownership of Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Silver Bullets became the first women's team to be recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Hope tabbed former Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro as manager and Shereen Samonds, the only female general manager in Double-A baseball at the time, as the team's top front office executive. Niekro would manage the team for its first three seasons.

The Tryouts: In a process reminiscent of the women-only league portrayed in the movie A League of Their Own, 1,300 women attended tryouts at 11 different locations across the country in the spring of 1994. Forty-eight were invited to the team's training camp in Orlando, Fla., before the team roster was whittled to 24. Legal assistants, nurses, teachers, waitresses, college students, and a Sports Illustrated writer were among those who tried out in hopes of being a part of history. And then there was Geri Fritz. After she was let go in one of the final rounds of cuts, it was revealed that Fritz was born a man. Fritz formerly went by Gerald and played college and professional baseball, but claimed to be legally female. The $20,000 that players earned for making the team could've helped the unemployed Fritz pay for the sex-change operation she wanted.

The First Season: To say the Silver Bullets struggled in their first season would be like saying Coors Light isn't the world's greatest beer. Colorado compiled a 6-38 record in 1994 and was outscored 57-1 in its first six games. The brutal start prompted the team to cancel its remaining scheduled games with Northern League teams and to schedule semi-pro and amateur teams instead. As the season wore on, it became increasingly clear that while the Silver Bullets could field and, to a lesser extent, pitch on par with some of their male counterparts, hitting was another story. Stacy Sunny led the team in nearly every offensive category, including runs (11), RBI (11), hits (23), and average (.200). As a team, the Silver Bullets averaged 1.9 runs per game and hit .154.

The Reaction: The Silver Bullets were a big draw at the gates during their first season. While they normally played in smaller minor league ballparks, they attracted crowds of more than 30,000 fans for games in Denver and San Diego. Silver Bullets souvenirs were hot items and the team generated a media buzz wherever it went. Not everyone was enamored with the idea, however. New York Times sports columnist Barbara Walder wrote: "This sad, slightly embarrassing stunt is just another way women have dropped the ball in their sporting quests over the last 20 years. Not even the most-reflexive feminists can work up much excitement for this enterprise. For instead of being bravely ahead of its time, the Bullets are badly behind, resorting to an attention-getter "“ sports women versus men "“ that like Bill Veeck's baseball-playing midget, can only work once."

The Improvement: The team improved its win total from six to 11 to 18 over the first three seasons, but the novelty of the idea slowly started to wear off. Average attendance dipped from approximately 8,000 in 1994 to 3,500 in 1995 as the team continued to struggle to compete and score runs. After starting the 1996 season 4-19, the Silver Bullets switched to aluminum bats and won 14 of their final 30 games. The team traveled to Taiwan for six exhibition games against men's teams from the Taiwan Major League in the offseason, but were outscored 69-18 and lost all six games. Searching for ways to cut costs, the Silver Bullets established a home base in Albany, Georgia, where they played close to half of their games in 1997.

The Brawl: On June 11, 1997, Kim Braatz-Voisard stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth and the Silver Bullets trailing an 18-and-under state champion team from Georgia by four runs. One pitch after she told the opposing team's heckling teenage catcher to shut up and play ball, she was drilled in the back with a fastball. The pitcher then laughed at Braatz-Voisard, who charged the mound and set off a bench-clearing brawl.

"I don't blame her," first-year Silver Bullets manager Bruce Crabbe told reporters afterward. "If Albert Belle gets hit by a pitcher who laughs at him, you think he might charge the mound?" The opposing team's manager said his pitcher did not intentionally throw at Braatz-Voisard, who one year earlier hit Colorado's first out-of-the-park home run. Attendance received a boost following the brawl, including a crowd of 10,000 for a game in Alaska. "It's almost a validating thing," Hope said. "This is a baseball team. If you're willing to brawl, you care about what you're doing."

The End: The Silver Bullets finished the 1997 season with their first winning record (23-22), but disbanded after losing Coors as their sponsor. A Coors spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the team's play, but Hope was disappointed nonetheless. "We don't want to sound ungrateful to Coors for giving us this opportunity, but it brings into question whether they consider this a corporate responsibility program, or just a novelty act," Hope told a reporter. "The idea apparently lost its freshness." The idea, apparently, lacked a Frost Brew Liner.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

Does the University of Florida Still Make Money Off Gatorade?

George Frey, Getty Images
George Frey, Getty Images

In September 1965, 10 freshmen players on the University of Florida's Gators football team agreed to let the school's kidney disease specialist, Robert Cade, assess their hydration levels during practices. He took urine samples. He interviewed athletes. He asked to take their rectal temperature during games.

The players agreed to all but the last request. In analyzing his results, Cade discovered that the wilting heat, coupled with a lack of hydration, resulted in subjects who were very low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, sometimes losing six to nine pounds of water per practice session—with some footballers having anecdotes of 15 to 20 pounds lost during games. Cade felt that players suffered from low blood volume and low blood sugar. Many, in fact, were being hospitalized after overexerting themselves without drinking enough water, traditionally seen as a way of building toughness in players. Those who remained on field were surely not playing up to their potential.

Cade mixed water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice, then ordered them to drink the solution to keep their bodies in balance. By 1967, the Gators were all consuming "Gatorade," and incidences of heat stroke fell sharply. The Gators secured a 9-2 record in 1966; the team became renowned for their renewed energy during the second half, and ignited a transformation in sports science. Decades later and backed by a massive promotional machine, Gatorade has permeated both professional sports and amateur athletics alike, replenishing electrolytes lost during physical activity. Roughly 632 million cases were sold in 2013 alone.

With the sports drink having been born on the Gators's playing field and invented by a University of Florida employee, it's not hard to see why both Cade's estate (he died in 2007) and the school get a percentage of royalties from sales, an agreement that's still in place today. But if they had their way, the university would be getting all of it.

A University of Florida coach is soaked in Gatorade by his players after a win
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

After Cade and his co-researchers finalized Gatorade’s formula, Cade approached the school's head of sponsored research to see if they wanted to come to an arrangement over the rights to the drink (Cade wanted $10,000) and determine if they wanted to try and sell it to a national distributor. According to Cade, University of Florida (UF) officials weren't interested, so he struck a deal with beverage maker Stokely Van-Camp in 1967.

Stokely's offer was for Cade and his cohorts—now known as the Gatorade Trust—to receive a $25,000 cash payment, a $5000 bonus, and a five-cent royalty on each gallon of Gatorade sold. When UF realized that they had been shortsighted in assessing the brand's mass market appeal—and that they were missing out on profits—they allegedly told Cade that the drink belonged to them.

"Go to hell," Cade responded, a statement that kicked off several years of litigation.

While Cade was a university employee, funds for his work actually came from the government—specifically, the Department of Health. He also managed to avoid signing an agreement solidifying his inventions as school property. For these reasons, and because both sides anticipated an endless and costly legal jiu-jitsu match in their futures, the two accepted a federal ruling in 1972. The Gatorade Trust would continue to receive their royalties, and the school would take 20 percent of the disbursement.

Initially, that meant one cent for every gallon of Gatorade sold, a fraction of the five cents owed to the Trust. In September 1973, following the first full year of the agreement, UF made $115,296 in royalties and earmarked the funds for kidney research and marine science.

Gatorade cups are shown stacked in a locker room
J. Meric, Getty Images

That's a considerable sum, but it's nothing compared to what poured out in the decades to come. When Stokely Van-Camp was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983, they kicked off a heavy promotional campaign that highlighted Gatorade in commercials and sponsored teams. Coaches began getting doused with jugs full of Gatorade following big victories. When PepsiCo bought Quaker for $13.4 billion in 2000, they leveraged their marketing muscle to further engender the brand.

Consequently, both the Gatorade Trust and UF have profited immensely. As of 2015, the Trust had earned well over $1 billion in royalties, with 20 percent, or about $281 million, going to UF. The five-cent per gallon formula has been replaced by a percentage: between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent depending on how much Gatorade is sold annually, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell, with the University taking a fifth of that. The funds have been invested in the school's Genetics Institute, the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine, and to help disperse seed money for grants.

The school naturally has an affinity for the stuff, but that can occasionally come into conflict with other marketing deals. In 2016, the University of Florida’s women's basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, which was sponsored by Powerade, a competing sports drink made by Coca-Cola. As a compromise, the players dumped their Gatorade into Powerade bottles and cups. The beverage born on campus—one that's netted them nearly $300 million to date—always comes first.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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